The Kenyan government sent troops and police to its northern border and said it would hunt down Somalian al Shabaab insurgents after the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers.
The two Spanish women, who were working for Medecins Sans Frontieres at the Dadaab refugee camp, were abucted on Thursday Police believe the kidnappers to be al Shabaab rebels but the al Qaeda-linked rebel movement has denied it was responsible.
“If we are attacked by the enemy, we have the right to pursue that enemy. “Defence Minister Yusuf Haji told a news conference. “We are trying to push al Shabaab as far away as possible from Kenya.”
Residents at Liboi and Dadachabulla border towns told Reuters they saw more than 20 trucks ferrying soldiers and police officers. Units had also set up camps on the border, Reuters reports.
Two war planes were also seen flying over the area.
“A convoy of army officers from Garissa, the police and border patrol officers at Dadachabulla have all moved to the border,” said Ibrahim Mohamed Barre, a resident from Dadachabulla 12 km (8 miles) away from the border with Somalia.
“About five families left for Garissa an hour ago, I am sure many people will leave. We are worried. It’s clear Kenya wants to fight al Shabaab. This place is no longer safe,” he added.
A Somali government official at the border town of Dhobley confirmed the increased Kenyan military presence.
“The Kenyan government is supporting us and its military tanks are in the border in order also to ensure the security of its border,” Somali army Colonel Abdiwali Yusuf told Reuters in Dhobley.
Aid workers have been targeted for abduction on many occasions in Somalia, where kidnappings can be a lucrative business, but attacks in Kenya had been relatively rare until a recent spate of incidents.
In 2009, three foreign aid workers working for the French charity Action Contre la Faim were grabbed by Somali gunmen from the Kenyan border town of Mandera. Two Western nuns were kidnapped in 2008.
Thursday’s kidnapping took place within weeks of two separate incidents in which Somali gunmen with close ties to pirates seized Western female tourists from Kenyan beach resorts.
Analysts and diplomats in the region had warned that pirates were likely to turn to softer targets, such as tourists in Kenya, in response to a more robust defence of merchant vessels by private security guards.
Security experts say Islamist militants fighting to topple the Western-backed Somali government could increasingly conduct copycat attacks inside Kenya, the region’s biggest economy.
“If a country is indeed provoked and its territorial boundary is violated, a country has all the right to deal effectively with the aggressors, wherever they are,” Internal Security Minister George Saitoti told the same news conference.